|Rohan and I prepare to tackle Hazel Mountain|
Tearing down the side of Hazel Mountain, we glimpsed the expanse of the Shenandoah Valley to our left. Rolling hills, rather than sharp peaks, crested and dipped over the valley floor; a quilt of fall colors sewn in red, orange, and golden patches. We disappeared off the ridge and began to descend into broken shadows. Leaves crunched underfoot and hid rocks that rolled our ankles and tested the strength of our cores. A stray arm shot out here, there to maintain balance while we skated over the carpet of leaves. "Wooooooo!" The beauty, you might say, lay all around us.
For about a month, I'd had the notion to run the Hazel Mountain trail in the Shenandoah. It's a trail I'd hiked twice in the past, and from what I could remember, seemed reasonably runnable with about a two mile stretch that
could would require hiking rather running. I wondered when I could pull something like this off given busy weekends and training programs. About two weeks ago, it hit me: Veterans Day. A random day off during the week. My wife did not have the same good fortune as I and had to work. I was willing to do it on my own but threw the idea out to my running partner, Rohan. "When should I be there?" he said with no hesitation.
|The waterfall that inspired an ice bath|
After 20 minutes of running, we heard water crashing below us. A side trail appeared and we veered off to make the steep descent. A quick stream carved through the mountainside before plunging some 20 feet into a small pool. We stopped for pictures. As we began climbing back to the trail, Rohan turned to me and said, "How good would this water feel after the run? We should come back and do an ice bath."
"You know that's what the elite guys do up in Mammoth Lakes. Yeah, let's do it."
The trouble with the Hazel Mountain trail is that it lulls you into a false sense of confidence. You see, the 10 mile loop descends for the first five miles. Knowing this, I tried to temper expectations and effort. But there was something about flying between the trees, hurtling fallen limbs, and crashing through streams that puts you in touch with those most primal of feelings tearing through the woods.
At one point, when the descent had ended, we made our way along the side of the mountain before turning back up. The trail became mostly flat and let us stretch our legs, really finding our stride. It was here that things opened up and we just flew. Thoughts and actions became stream of conscious, no thinking, just running. Later we compared it to running in the dark. Senses heightened. Awareness.
|Looking out from Mt. Hazel|
Sudden rustling of leaves. Breaking of Branches. To the left! A shock of white. There! Gone. The deer's tail betraying its path. Then nothing.
But that of course ended when we reached the Sam's Ridge Trail.
"Right turn." I called.
"What?! Up there?" Rohan said.
"Yeah, time to start climbing."
He snorted. "You lead."
So we took off up the Sam's Ridge Trail, attempting to run it for as long as we could. I started with mincing steps that slipped on the leaves sending my knees knocking into one another. We became the opposite of the graceful predators we were minutes before. My heart nearly pounded out of my chest and my quads groaned. We walked.
About a mile into that climb, the talk of food came up and the tiny burger shack perched on the side of the road in Sperryville titled "Burgers 'n Things" became the focus of our desire. They could very well be the worst burgers in the world, but every time I stop there after a hike, I inhale the first without chewing, and the second is washed down quickly with a chocolate milkshake.
"Tell me about it again," Rohan said. "What would you compare them to?"
"I would put them in the Five Guys category. Did I mention bacon?"
"You never said anything about bacon. There's bacon? We need to get this hike moving."
|Rohan on pins and needles|
After several false starts, we were running again. With just over a mile to go, we decided to double back and head to the waterfall, adding about another mile or so to our day. We peeled our socks off and stared at the water. I stuck a toe in, then my whole foot, and elicited a yelp that I could not control had life depended on it. Rohan laughed until he went ankle deep. Gingerly we went in to just above our knees. I don't know if I got used to it or if my legs simply went numb, but dammit, it felt pretty darn good. There was a light stabbing feeling, pins and needles, really. Then we got out, I had flashbacks to playing in the snow and then running my hands under warm water. Yeeow!
|It seemed like a good idea at the time.|
We ran back to the car mostly in silence, exhaustion finally overtaking us. We got our food (two bacon cheeseburgers and a milkshake for me, a chili dog and a double cheeseburger and milkshake for him), and rode back to civilization.
When we arrived back at my house and were freshly showered, we walked gingerly down the basement stairs and promptly passed out on the couches before the TV had even had a chance to come on.